Thursday, December 10, 2015

Acoustic Syndicate: Redefining Appalachian Music

Founded in 1992, Acoustic Syndicate identifies as a rock/folk/bluegrass band based out of Western North Carolina, more commonly referred to as Appalachia. Every past and present band member holds a place in the Appalachian community, having grown up in The High Country. While some bands might falsely categorize themselves as “Appalachian”, Acoustic Syndicate is the real, authentic deal.

Over the years, seven full-length albums have been released under the name Acoustic Syndicate. Their first album released in 1996, coincidentally the year I was born, was self-titled Acoustic Syndicate. Their debut album was followed by: Tributaries (1999), Crazy Little Life (2000), Live From The Neighborhood (2003), Terra Firma (2003) and Long Way Round (2004).

After an 8-year hiatus leaving fans wondering if they had put their instruments up for good, Acoustic Syndicate’s most recent album, Rooftop Garden, was released in September of 2013.

Thanks my friend Billy Herring, "manager/tour manager/wrangler", I got the opportunity to have some questions answered by Steve McMurry, vocalist and guitarist in Acoustic Syndicate:

How do you think your own music, and Appalachian music as a whole has evolved since the Acoustic Syndicate's beginning in 1992?
I think our own music has evolved over the years with changes in our families lives and also with our own expectations of ourselves to dig deeper into our songwriting capabilities. Obviously, being farmers we also are deeply rooted in our environmental situation on the planet and that plays alot into our music. As for the continuing boom of acoustic/folk/americana music over the last 2 decades we started out as a bluegrass band with drums which had never really been done before. Within several years of our start we noticed younger bands following our lead with exploration of other sounds and instruments in acoustic music. Obviously today there are numerous bands on the cutting edge of acoustic music and we are proud to have been at the forefront of that movement. But we always know we can get deep back into the hollars of the Appalachians and find the real deal old time music that has been played for generations long before us.

Who/what/where do you think your passion for music grew from?
Personally, me and my cousins grew up playing music in the church and at various events around Cleveland County, NC where we grew up. Between the 5 band members we all grew up with different tastes in music which has lended itself to all of the different sounds you hear on our records and our live performances. We mix our own original stuff with covers from The Who, Dire Straits, Van Morrison, The Police and lots more. We never wanted to pigeon hole ourselves as a bluegrass band just because we were playing standard bluegrass instruments.

What is your favorite instrument to play? What is your favorite instrument to hear?
I play guitar and mandolin but I love all instruments. I really like heavy exploratory jazz as well. Its not really so much the individual instruments as the whole of the individual parts coming together to make a unique sound....whether its coming from our band or any numerous bands that we draw influences from.

How was your experience recording Rooftop Garden? Are there any moments in particular that are especially memorable?
Well, the Rooftop Garden record sort of came out of the blue. We were gigging in the Northwest several years ago and on a day off we were having beers and discussing new songs that we had in our pockets, so to speak. Without going into great detail, we discussed the potential for a new record and within a year we were in Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville laying down tracks for the record. The songs on the record came from our experiences within our lives at the were growing, parents were aging, our planet was and is coming under attack form those who don't care for it as much as we do and we felt like we were at the stage to just make the record and lay out our thoughts on the state of where we are as human beings. We had a phenomenal producer, Stewart Lehman, from NYC and we just had a ball with him in the studio. Studio work is tedious but we were really happy with the end result. We've probably got enough material for a few more records....we shall see I guess.

Y'all have a few shows coming up before Christmas, will there be more shows and touring when the New Year rolls around? 
Well, that depends on how much the wives want us around the house. Several of us have children and also have "day jobs" so all of those things come into play. We are at a point where we can sort of pick and choose our gigs and that allows us to be around for the things that really matter to us and that is family. We've toured the country more times than I can count over the last 23 years and we continue to hit our hot spots several times a year. We just want to be playing good music for good people without getting banged and bruised by the brutal life of touring. We will see where it goes. We just feel blessed to have our health and our continued unbelievable fan support after all of these years. Most bands dont last a year or two before imploding but we have a beautiful family vibe that keeps us grounded and gives us amazing support while we are on the road. Plus, they always save chores for us around the house to keep it all real. Also, our manager and front of house engineer play a major part in making us sound good and keeping us where we need to be. Actually, we have a gig up at Beech Mountain in early January...that will be our first gig of 2016. Come see us! We've played all of the major festivals over the years....Bonnnaroo, Merlefest, Telluride Bluegrass, FloydFest, Jazzfest in New Orleans....we will playing some of those festivals this year as well.

Acoustic Syndicate is very vocal about environmental rights and acting as a community. What do you want your listeners to gain about these topics from your music? 
With the current state of affairs regarding fracking, clean air issues, GMOs and clean water we have very determined views on these things. Once our natural resources are gone....they are gone. We are raising our children to respect the environment and also to be stewards for the environment. Its interesting because most of our fans are very much proponents of leaving our Earth better than the way we found it. We are all in this world together and we need to treat it fairly and lovingly. We have several songs on Rooftop that speak to leaving a better world for our kids and also realizing that we do have the resources as a world community to provide water and food to our brothers and sisters world wide. We know this is possible...unfortunately politics get in the way of humanity lots of times. As the song goes, "We're all part of the same big family...." (Another Rooftop song)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The View From My Rut

I've been thinking about this post for so long now, I was beginning to wonder if it would ever actually be written. Even now that I'm finally typing it, I'm not sure where to go from here.

Life has been moving so quickly recently that I have hardly had the chance to take a deep breath and look around. Admittedly, I have been moving nonstop by choice, so much so that I have found myself in a rut of constant desire for action, avoiding down time at any cost. Bronchitis, tonsillitis, strep and a nasty sinus infection caught up to me this past week and wore me out for a few days. Even then, I tried to keep myself as busy as possible so I could stay distracted. But now I am exhausted, and ready to climb out of the rut I've been racing in.

So far, this semester has been incredibly full and I've enjoyed every moment of it.

Today is November 22nd. Every word above was written on September 19th. I've opened this draft so many times, trying to pair words to my thoughts, and I am still at a loss. This post has been burning a hole in the back of my head, and it's about time it receives the attention it deserves.

With only a few class sessions, assignments and tests between Spring 2016 and I, it's about time I accept Fall 2015 for what it was, face the reality of every experience and prepare for what is to come.

Fall 2015 has been the most difficult season in my life so far. I thought I had hit rock bottom in the past, but I was wrong.
First let me state:

I am and will continue to be okay.

If I have learned anything from the last few months, it is that there is nothing that I cannot conquer. I refuse to be defeated, and I plan to stand strong, stable and tall as long as my body will allow. Although I'm not very vocal about my 'problems', the presence and relationships from others in my life serve as constant encouragement. The people I love offer infinite assistance through hard times, even if we don't talk about it directly.

While you're reading, please keep in mind that I am 19. Do you know any 19 year olds that have it all together? I definitely don't. I have plenty of time to figure everything out, but that doesn't make it any less stressful, especially being someone who doesn't accept mediocracy lightly. 

Nevertheless, I am young. I am okay. I am well on my way out of the rut I have been stuck in. I am determined. There is nothing that will stop me from achieving success and happiness. When open land and fresh air still seem a million miles away, I remind myself that the destination will make every heavy step of the journey worth it. 

I want to find my way back to my roots, as I have lost sight of myself recently, and haven't realized so until this semester. I'll get there. Until then, let's go with the classic excuse, "I'm just trying to find myself, man".

Traditionally, I prefer to keep my problems to myself. I have a wall as deep as the sea in front of me, and I do not feel comfortable being vulnerable. However, a friend of mine recently shared the following picture:

Lot of love for you always, Pam!

People tend to be so hush-hush when it comes to the deeper and more complex problems we face in our lives. I have always been independent, and find pride in my ability to handle situations on my own. Sometimes I wonder if things would be different had I found a role model or mentor. Maybe I would be more comfortable confronting my problems. Maybe I wouldn't feel the need to handle things on my own. Maybe I wouldn't feel like a burden when I try to open up. Regardless, I have decided that I want to be a resource to anyone else who may need a friend to lean on. 

Life isn't easy for any of us. Everyone's reality gets heavy from time to time. We all have our own issues, and they are all relevant. There is no point in pretending our lives are perfect and worry-free. As I work towards thinning down my protective wall and being more open, I would like to encourage anyone who feels similarly to do the same. Even baby steps count as progress. Until next time...

"I wanted people to trust me, despite anything they'd heard. And more than that, I wanted them to know me. Not the stuff they thought they knew about me. No, the real me. I wanted them to get past the rumors. To see beyond the relationships I once had, or maybe still had but that they really didn't agree with. And if I wanted people to treat me that way, then I had to do the same for them, right?"
-Jay Asher
Thirteen Reasons Why

Thursday, August 6, 2015

To the Parents of our Able Campers,

I have had heart warming conversations with a few of you, met many of y'all briefly, and still have yet to shake others' hands. I am one of the 100+ volunteer staffers who spend the week by your child's side when you drop them off at Camp Able. As a counselor, my job is to make sure every moment at camp is enjoyed with a smile stretching from ear to ear.

Although many counselors do, I personally have no professional training in caring for those with diverse abilities. It is something that has captured my heart, to my own surprise despite my chronic lack of patience, with no intention of releasing it. I am not qualified, or particularly special in any way. I simply got lucky when I was given the opportunity to serve at Camp Able. Many of you have thanked me, and other people from the outside looking in tell me what an "incredible and selfless thing" I do. I'd love to honestly say that I do it solely for the joy of the campers, but that simply is not true. I have returned year after year because your children make my life so much brighter and worth while.

The laughter and words we share are strong enough to pull me out of the deepest pit of sadness, anger or frustration I may find myself in during the rest of the year. I often catch myself remembering moments, watching videos, or looking at pictures from camp...especially when I have trouble paying attention in class. I'm almost positive my friends are going to duct tape my mouth shut the next time they hear me talk about the past summers at Camp Able or how much I am looking forward to the upcoming one. Oh, well! Sorry not sorry.

Each of your children have filled my heart to the brim with pure love, affection, and happiness. There is no way I would be who, or where I am today without the everlasting impact they have made on my life. At this point, I genuinely believe that my heart is covered with each campers fingerprint, as they have held it so many times over the past few years. I am infinitely grateful to all of you and your families for trusting the Camp Able staff and I with your precious children. I can only hope they have half of the experience we do during our short time together. The campers do so much more for us and our hearts than we could ever dream of returning to them. Your children hold the purest love and happiness I have ever encountered, and because of them, I have had the privilege of holding those things too.

On behalf of the staff who have the opportunity to serve and enjoy your children for one magical week every summer, thank you, thank you, thank you. We are already counting down the days until the next time we get to see y'all!

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."

-Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summer Sand

I've spent the past few days overflowing with thoughts and ideas. I currently have 3 different pieces saved as drafts, just waiting to be finished and posted. As a new thought pops into my head, I open the related draft and add onto it. Sometimes I wish my brain would chill, but like Leslie Knope, it has a hard time doing so. To my own confusion, my mind tends to work its hardest when my body is ready to sleep...ugh.

I got ready to send my friend and voluntary proofreader one of my unfinished pieces simply because I was getting antsy, waiting to share some of my thoughts. But, I would much rather post pieces based on quality over quantity. I am taking a step back from all of my thoughts and ideas so that I can give y'all a little life update.

This summer, I am living in Marco Island, Florida as I intern with Rector Kyle Bennett of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Life could definitely be worse. I drove 10 hours down with my knowledge of electronic media and my camera to offer what I can. Here on the island, we are preparing for Camp Able on Marco, filled to the brim with anticipation for the campers to arrive! This summer's theme, "Once Upon a Time" has Kyle's brain running nonstop, as usual, while I try to bring his ideas to life.

St. Mark's is also giving the business of hand crafted chocolate a try. The profits go towards fueling adventures and smiles for all of our friends that attend Camp Able every summer. I have yet to master the art of chocolatiering, but with a little over a dozen Pure Chocolate bars on my resume, I can see the hope of a new profession in my future. I've had fun in the chocolate factory with Wonka Wade and all the good smells, as I learn about and film the process.

I'm excited for all the projects and experiences this summer holds, as well as the relationships with smiling strangers, who I can now call friends. My heart misses the mountain air at times, but I take the ache on with love, knowing that Boone is waiting patiently for my return. Although the beaches of South Florida are far different from the Blue Ridge Mountains I have grown to call home, I now know that the sunrise is uniquely beautiful as it awakens every new day regardless of your geographic location.

Here's to summer.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Caroline Hinton: Life Rolls On

Going to college away from home freshman year can be hard. But going to college away from home as “the girl in the wheelchair,” can be even harder.

The summer before my senior year of high school I was in a pretty bad car accident. I got in the car with my “friend” at the time and we were both pretty drunk, the next thing I remembered was lying in a hospital bed with one tube down my throat, one up my nose, and one in my side. Hearing the words “you’re never gonna walk again” can be pretty traumatic. Having to hear them with no friends there to support you can be devastating. I had never truly understood the term “you find out who your friends are” until I was in the hospital with minimal visitors, excluding family. The “friend” that I was in the accident with has yet to talk to me to this day. The accident was almost two years ago. Going back to high school in a wheelchair is one thing, but going to college two hours away from your house, with no friends, is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
So when I got to Appalachian, I assumed everyone would be nice and thoughtful towards the handicap kid but sadly I was wrong. Over the course of the school year when I would go to the market directly across from my dorm, I had the door held open for me 4, maybe 5 times. The constant stares I got while shopping in the market, and while pushing up a hill to get to the market, crippled me to the point that I couldn’t go back by myself. After just the first month of school, I had gotten to the point where, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t make myself go out of my dorm.

For a decent amount of time, I would only leave my dorm to go to class. If I needed to get groceries I would go to the market. When I would go to the market I would get enough to ensure that I wouldn’t need to go back for at least a week. This went on from the middle of September until the middle of March, pretty much my entire freshman year. Social media played a part in my ‘not wanting to leave my room’ phase. When you look on Instagram all you’re going to see is other people having fun with their friends. Seeing this while lying in my room alone wasn’t exactly a self-esteem booster. I know that people are only going to post the high-points in their life, but it was still hard to see considering I didn’t have any high-points to post, let alone friends to have high-points with.

Making friends wasn’t easy for me. I would talk to people in my classes but that usually ended when it was time to go to the next class. I guess everyone just assumed that since I was in a wheelchair I couldn’t do what they were doing. I can not count the number of times I have said this throughout my two year paraplegic journey, I can do anything anybody else can do I just do it differently. That seems like a foreign concept to most people. They see a wheelchair and automatically assume that I’m limited.

Being alone throughout your freshman year of college is not easy. You have to come up with different strategies to keep yourself occupied. You watch A LOT of Netflix. And sometimes you find yourself lying in bed because there’s absolutely nothing else left for you to do.

If I learned anything from my freshman year of college, it was how to deal with being alone.

-Caroline Hinton

Friday, May 15, 2015

Freshman Year Beyond Class

I survived my Freshman year of college at Appalachian State University!

There were definitely times I didn't think I would, as I allowed the weight of the world and my own mistakes to pin me to the bottom of a pit I constructed in my mind, drowning myself in stress, pressure and worries. But here I am, still standing 5 feet 2 inches tall with more strength and determination to live a life I truly love as I strive to appreciate all of the highs and lows to come. With every situation I encountered this past year, I learned a lot about myself and began to solidify my own understanding of this life, this universe and where my heart lies.

This is what I understand to be true.

Home is relative.
If you were to Google the word "home", different definitions would appear to help you understand the term. This one is my favorite: 
"The place in which one's domestic affections are centered - any place of residence or refuge."
At the end of a long day, the mountains in Boone, North Carolina fill my heart with the same sensation I feel while pulling into my driveway in Douglasville, Georgia. As I began to call Boone home, I never stopped referring to the place I grew up as home either. To me, home is anywhere I am surrounded by people, places and memories that ground me and remind me who I am. Throughout my life as I grow and explore, I will refer to many different locations as "home", never diminishing the places beforehand, as they still hold pieces of my heart.

Life is easier when you don't procrastinate.
Self-explanatory. I know you've probably heard it a million more times in your life than you would have liked, but it's true. Beating my habit of procrastination made a huge difference in my academic career. If there is something you need to get soon as possible. Tada! One less thing you have to worry about. Easy peasy.

"Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."
-Louis D. Brandeis
I loved watching the leaves fall and flowers bloom again throughout the seasons Boone offered this year. Snow will never cease to amaze me, with all of its bright, sparkling glory as it covers the peak of every mountain in sight. That being said, I stand by the statement that nothing beats a sunny day at Appalachian State. Serendipity and I have a unique relationship, warming my soul as it parted the clouds and brought out the sun whenever I felt low. Even during the times where my mind had reached its darkest corners, the warmth of the sun on my skin served as a reminder that good things would soon come my way. Sitting on Sanford Mall soaking up the rays is easily my favorite way to pass time between classes. I'm almost positive the rest of the student body would agree.

There is a time for everything and everything has its time.
It's not much of a secret that I lack patience. Waiting around for something to happen or fall in my lap has never really been my style. I've been told once or twice that sometimes I fight too hard to be in control...and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. Although I fully encourage you all to step up, accept responsibility and go after the things you desire, sometimes, you just have to be patient. Unfortunately, there's no way around it. Believe me. I've tried. Whether it's a relationship, a job opportunity, or the itch to switch things up a bit, if you have to force it, it's not meant to be. When something ends, you can try to fight it, but when it's over, you need to let it go. Now this is not an excuse to be lazy and wait on the universe to hand you everything on a silver platter. It is simply a reminder that sometimes good things come to an end, but in due time, something better will come.

Organization is key.
As a graduation present to my closest friends, I bought agendas from May Designs that I customized for each of us to use when we went our separate ways to different colleges across the country. That agenda was my backbone this past year. I had used an agenda my whole life, since they were always issued to us by the school from kindergarten through my senior year, but this was the first time I really used my agenda. Man oh man did I use it. I couldn't have gotten through the year without it. It contained all of my due dates, homework, appointments, lists etc. and it was truly my day one homie. Shouts outs to you, little one. Much love for my 2014-2015 academic planner.

Chill out.
Don't be afraid to push everything aside for a little while and take a breather. When I felt stressed and overwhelmed, nothing calmed my mind like the company of my friends, and an adventure. Although I am not much of a morning person, I forced myself to wake up at the crack of dawn, drive to the Blue Ridge parkway and watch the sun rise as a new day started several times throughout the year. I never regretted it. When you allow yourself to stop and pay attention to the details and hidden beauty of this earth, you realize how trivial your problems are in the grand scheme of things. Take a breath. Find something incredible and unique. You'll get everything done. Positive thinking goes a long way.

It's okay to tell people that you are not okay.
We all find ourselves in this position from time to time. When I'm in this situation, my independence really hurts me. I, like everyone else in the world, have plenty of problems, fears and insecurities. Not wanting to be a burden or a source of negative energy, I tend to keep my problems to myself. I have even picked up the habit of using my heart for serving others as a way to avoid my own problems, pushing them into the background and allowing them to breathe and grow. I am just now realizing, after 18 years, that I don't have to do that. When a friend asks you how you're doing, they are inviting you to be honest and open. I fully understand not wanting to, or being scared to let people in, but that does nothing for you as you try to heal and move forward. You never have to feel alone and you never have to take on the weight of the world by yourself. If someone wants to help you, let them. If you don't know anyone that you can talk to, I'd be honored to help you carry your burden.

Intentionally invest your time into others.
At the end of the day, all we really have are the people we love. I'm sure we could survive in solitude, but who wants that? As humans, we were made to crave and seek interpersonal relationships in order to properly grow and thrive. Surround yourself with good people who encourage you and truly want to help you succeed, and do the same for others. Be intentional with your contact and conversation. Love others wholeheartedly, truthfully and without reservation. We all know that loving others gives them the opportunity to hurt us, but I believe that is a chance worth taking.

Love yourself first.
This is something I am currently working on, and have yet to perfect. For the first time in my life, a friend of mine recently told me to stop trying to help him, and to help myself first. I try to live as selflessly as possible, always putting others desires before my own. As I stated before, my focus on living selflessly has become a way for me to avoid facing my own problems. I'm still learning how to balance taking care of myself without being selfish, but I finally understand how important it is that I take care of myself before I try to take care of others. It's a work in progress.

Life goes on.
As bad as things may seem, there is always the opportunity for life to be good again. You are never without hope. Rock bottom is an incredibly solid foundation to build your life on. The sun will rise again in the morning, the day will carry on, and you should too. I sincerely hope that none of you ever choose which day will be your last. There is so much to experience, and you deserve to see as much of the world as your heart desires. Life is hard, but it is so beautiful and rewarding. I would love for each of you to be able to enjoy this life as long as possible. Despite your past or mistakes, you deserve all the beauty this world has to offer. You're here for a reason. Be here.

My freshman year of college put me face to face with some of my biggest fears, and most difficult struggles. But the highs I experienced outweighed the lows by a landslide. I can't wait to be back in Boone in August, moving into my new house with two of my best friends. I am infinitely grateful to all the people who stood by my side and made my first year of college so successful. I can't wait to see what the mountains have in store for all of us in the future.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Life Without Snapchat

On Tuesday, April 14th 2015, I made a big, grown up decision...I deleted my Snapchat.
At first, I gave all of my Snapchat friends a heads up, posting a picture stating that my account would soon be gone. I was planning to delete my account 24 hours later, when the picture would disappear from my story. I let the Twittersphere know what was up, too.
...Then I changed my mind...It's no secret that I lack patience...
A lot of people have been asking me why I chose to remove myself from the buzzing world of Snapchat, and I will gladly tell you.

According to Digital Marketing Stats/Strategy/Gadgets, 77% of college students use Snapchat daily, and the average amount of time that 18-29 year old users spend on Snapchat everyday is 20 minutes. I think most users can agree that they spend far more than 20 minutes on Snapchat everyday. I know I did.

 I personally see no real purpose or significance behind Snapchat. Since it was not benefitting me or my quality of life, it had been acting as a distraction and a way to waste time. Sure, it allows you to peak into other's lives, but so does Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which I already use. Annnnd honestly, with the amount of posting we do these days, those three sources of social media are more than enough. I receive plenty of updates on your animals, car troubles, significant others, food and that person who has been annoying you lately. Trust me, I get it.

However, the main reason I deleted my Snapchat was because I want to post less. I had gotten to the point where I was looking for reasons to post, pulling out my phone like a reflex when I saw something even slightly interesting.

Dr. Linda Henkel conducted a study with 28 university students. They were told to observe 15 objects and to photograph 15 others. Dr. Henkel asked the students to describe each object in detail the next day and reported the following: "If participants took a photo of each object as a whole, they remembered fewer objects and remembered fewer details about the objects and the objects’ locations in the museum than if they instead only observed the objects and did not photograph them."

In today's society, with the aid of social media, we have become accustomed to carrying double lives, switching back and forth between who we are in reality and how we appear on social media. Based on the amount of time my peers and I spend online, I'm afraid that the social media versions of ourselves are becoming more important to us than who we are in reality. As a culture, we spend so much time trying to make sure that we appear attractive, fun, interesting and put together online that we neglect, or take away from these aspects in our actual lives.

Now don't get me wrong, I love sharing things online for my friends and family to see just as much as I love keeping up with their posts. Being over 300 miles away from home, social media has become more so a way for me to keep up with everyone I love as I am beginning to create my own path. That being said, I do not want to be remembered based on the way my life appears on social media. I deal with plenty of my own struggles and stumbling blocks that a random person who follows me online would never know about, because I do not post about them. I do not want my sense of worth to be determined by how many followers I have and how many likes my Instagram pictures get. I want to spend my time enjoying every moment I encounter, soaking the tiniest details in, rather than making sure it's documented properly. I would encourage you all to do the same. Stop sitting behind your various screens, finding yourselves envious of all the things other people are doing, and embark on some adventures of your own.

That being said, I am not permanently signing off. I don't think I'll ever use Snapchat again, but there are more than enough sites that I post to almost daily, for those who are interested. I simply want to cut back my time online, and focus on savoring and enjoying the reality that is my life instead of just trying to make it appear that way. I think I'm off to a good start.

Thanks for the fun, Snapchat!

See ya never.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Camp Able Reunion 2015: Disney World!

Walt Disney World

Arguably, the most magical place on earth. I was lucky enough to spend the weekend of February 27th through March 1st at the happiest place on earth with the happiest people on Camp Able family! The time I spend in Marco Island, Florida serving some of my favorite people alongside my best friends is easily one of the most rewarding (and exhausting) weeks out of the year. To have that experience during winter, at Disney World of all places, made it even more magical.

Having not been to Disney in about ten years, I was almost positive that I would be far more excited for our vacation than all of the campers combined. As they slowly began to arrive in Orlando with smiles larger than Cheshire Cat's, I realized that I had some competition. Every few minutes, another member of Camp Able walked through the door as everyone laughed, hugged and anticipated our upcoming adventure. We all gathered for dinner and discussed our excitement for the following day, preparing to conquer Disney World with old friends.

Bright and early, everyone got dressed and fueled up for our big day. Looking out the window, a few other staffers and I began to worry about the overcast weather and high chance of rain predicted for our only day at the park. The two campers staying in our room, Brittany and Alli, pulled us away from our doubts as they grabbed our hands and ran out into the rain to wait for our shuttle. My camper, Allison Paci and I giggled, sharing our excitement and anticipation as we made our way to the park. Of course, the two of us sat at the very front of the shuttle so we could be the first two to step into the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World! After what seemed to be the longest bus ride of all time, as Allison repeated, "I'm so excited I could run and get there faster than this!" we finally arrived only a few minutes after 9...AM.

It rained, and rained, and rained, but the bright smiles that filled every face of our Able campers and staff were radiant enough that even the sunniest day would seem dim in comparison. We played, ate expensive Disney food, rode a ton of rides with little to no wait, thanks to our abundant disability and flash passes, and played some more. I, along with some of our most energized campers, stayed at the park until 11 that night. Although some of our friends became worn out and went back to the hotel to nap and refuel, majority of our adventurers came back at 9 PM to watch the electrical show and fireworks! Louis and I, having been at the park for a little over 12 hours at that point, decided to dance while we waited for the show.

In the weeks leading up to our Camp Able Disney Reunion, I found myself frustrated and fearing that I was falling back into my struggle with depression, while also drowning in my own worries and stress. The staggering amount of snow and intense 21 mph winds bringing the windchill in Boone to an incredible -24 degrees fahrenheit, locking me away in my dorm room, was not helping either. Needless to say, this adventure could not have come at a better time. Although I strive to be optimistic in every situation, it can be easy for any of us to let bad days and busy schedules distract us from all the happiness and acts of God that we encounter on a daily basis. 

Every time I leave Camp Able, I find myself in absolute awe of the love that warms every inch of my body from the presence of the special needs campers that attend. All of the best leaders and role models in my life have taught me that serving others is just one way to share the love of God with every person you come in contact with. Service has become my favorite way to spread love, and serving the campers that make up the heart of Camp Able is my favorite group of people to serve. The most rewarding acts of kindness are the ones that will never be repaid. I know that my campers will never repay me for my voluntary service, or the amount of money spent on coffee while serving them, but they have given me more love, faith, compassion and patience (seriously, lots of patience) than I ever imagined. I only hope that I can continue to make them smile and laugh in my years of service to come at Camp Able.

"Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace."
-Ephesians 4:1-3

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Remembering 2014

Happy New Year!
2014 flew by, but it was by far the best year I've ever had. I made so many accomplishments, reached several milestones and made a few leaps of faith. Although I'm sad to leave it all in the past, I cannot wait to see what 2015 holds. Here are some of my favorite
memories from 2014.

The Apple Rays

My first and only year as a Stingray Allstar, but easily my favorite year of cheerleading. Wearing blue and green at competitions and representing such an incredible gym was a feeling like no other. My 19+ (due to injuries and absences) other teammates are the hardest working girls I've ever met, and having the opportunity to take the floor with them was such a blessing. Our coaches, Robyn, Deonte and Courtney always believed in and loved us. Their honesty and passion made us the team we were. I miss this team with all my heart!

College Acceptance

Being incredibly indecisive and feeling the pressure to choose the "right" school, I ended up applying to a lot of different colleges. I had a tough decision to make since I was accepted to every single school I applied to. I did not expect to have so many options, but was so humbled to have been wanted by so many great universities. Ultimately, I went with my first choice and committed to Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. Go mountaineers!

Bob Weir & Ratdog

I got to see Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead play at the Tabernacle in Atlanta! This was the best concert I've ever been to. The unique, dirty hippie atmosphere made me feel right at home. It was more of an experience than a concert with the un avoidable smell of weed in the air and huge circles of authentic 1960's hippies dancing to the music. Bob Weir is getting older, and I am so glad I got the opportunity to see him perform before he calls it quits. A little piece of The Grateful Dead in the same room as me! Now that's pretty rad.


FINALLY. After four long years, I graduated high school! Graduation was one of the most freeing days of my life. No more government controlled Georgia public schooling! Sigh of relief. Trust me kids, life gets so much better after high school. Graduating allows you to leave high school in the past, where I'm sure we'd all like for it to stay, and experience everything else the world has to offer.

Camp Able

Volunteering at Camp Able in Marco Island, Florida has become one of my favorite parts of the summer. Working with the kids regardless of their disabilities is always so much fun and very rewarding. This summer my camper's name was Kian, and he was as fun as they get! With lots of coffee, energy, patience and hugs, Kian and I had a great time at Camp Able. He was such a joy to be around. He taught me so much, and offered me so much love during our time together. By the time camp was over, I cried a little bit as I said goodbye and have missed him everyday since.


Woohoo! 18 years old! I'm finally totally legal...except for buying alcohol, renting a car or getting a hotel room. I had a great birthday and celebrated with some of my favorite people before I left for school. Although I was the last of my friends, I finally turned 18. Milestones, y'all!

Boone, North Carolina

Ah, Boone! This year I moved over 300 miles away from home to go to school at Appalachian State University. I love my school and where I live. I have made the best friends and feel so at home where I am. Virginia, Megan, Katie, Maggie, Aaron, Caroline and Jake are my Boone homies. I am so thankful for each of you! Y'all are stuck with me for the next few years. I ended my first semester of college by making the Dean's list. I can't wait to be back in Boone and start next semester.


On December 29th, James and I celebrated our anniversary. We've had so much fun together. I can't believe how fast the time has gone by. I'm so lucky to be dating my best friend and I would highly recommend it. For my first boyfriend, James is doing a pretty spectacular job and has set the standard very high. I don't know what the future holds for us, but regardless I'll always be thankful for the time we've had together and all that he has done for me. I owe so much to him. I'm a very lucky girl. 

Goodbye, 2014! I've enjoyed you so much!
Bring it on, 2015!
© Unapologetic
Maira Gall